Cloudogu Logo

Hello, we are Cloudogu!

Experts in Software Lifecycle Management and process auto­mation, supporter of open source soft­ware and developer of the Cloudogu EcoSystem.

featured image Automation assistants: GitOps tools in comparison
03/17/2021 in Methods

Automation assistants: GitOps tools in comparison

+++ You can download the original article (German), published in iX 04/2021. +++
Acknowledgement
The authors are expressing their thanks to Vuk Gojnic, Marcel Fest and Maximilian Rink (Deutsche Telekom Technik), Michael Adersberger (Syncier) and Andreas Kowasch (QAware), as well as Alexis Richardson (Weaveworks) for their willingness to exchange experiences, which enormously contributed to the width and depth of this article.

If you want to switch from classic CI/CD environments to GitOps, then you can choose from any of a large number of available tools. However, it is not always easy to tell which features they support and how suitable they are for your project at first glance. Help in making a decision.

The term GitOps is a combination of the name of the version management system Git and the abbreviation Ops, which stands for operations in the IT area. The idea for adding this additional tool to the DevOps toolbox comes from the Kubernetes environment, and it promises a new level of IT automation. Like the continuous delivery approach, GitOps relies on maintaining all information in source code management. The difference, however, is that the deployment environment synchronizes its state directly from Git, and the CI server is not responsible for the roll-out. The configuration must therefore be versioned in Git. Since this is treated like code, it is referred to as “Infrastructure as Code”.

It is no wonder then that there is now a growing number of GitOps tools to choose from. But what range of features do they offer? Is a single one sufficient, and can “everything” be automated? This article answers these and similar questions on the basis of specific examples. It lays out selection criteria and illustrates them by comparing the well-known GitOps tools ArgoCD and Flux v2.

A confusing market

Compiling an overview of the GitOps tools that are available on the market is not as trivial a task as it might sound. On the one hand, this is due to the fact that there is a certain amount of hype surrounding the term, and developers like to add the name GitOps to their products for decorative purposes. On the other hand, it is difficult to clearly define the term, and it is used to describe different levels of the stack (from physical infrastructure to the applications that are running in the cloud) in varying levels of development. The article “Hands off!” (only available in German) delves into the topic in more detail.

Websites such as awesome-gitops, which was launched by Weaveworks, or gitops.tech, which was put together by INNOQ employees, provide an introductory overview of the available tools. When you take a closer look, you will see that the listed tools can be used to perform a wide variety of tasks related to implementing GitOps, and of course they also differ from one another in terms of their prevalence, level of development, and how actively they are used. This article identifies three categories from the various use cases: Tools for Kubernetes, complementary tools, and infrastructure-related tools. In addition, we compiled a table that summarizes the tools and their properties. The tables also contain various Git- and GitHub-based metrics (current as of February 2021) that allow you to better assess their prevalence, level of development, and how actively they are used.

Tools for Kubernetes

When it comes to GitOps tools, the first thing that usually comes up is the topic of operators for Kubernetes. In general, an operator (which is often also called a “custom controller”) is an application that runs in the Kubernetes cluster and automates operational tasks there (see Figure 1). This operator pattern is also used to implement GitOps. The GitOps operator is used to run the reconciliation loop, which synchronizes the target state declared in the Git repositories with the actual state of the cluster. In the event of differences (e.g., due to a new commit in Git), the operator takes care of convergence to the target state by applying Kubernetes resources to the API server. Experience has shown that additional features that go beyond the core feature set are required for efficient operation. These include observability and a command line interface (CLI) or a user interface (UI). We will learn more about this later in the “Criteria for selecting the right tool” sidebar.

GitOps tools for Kubernetes Table 1

The blog post by Weaveworks, which coined the term GitOps in 2017, also names the first GitOps operator: Flux. In the meantime, this has been completely rewritten as Flux v2. The associated project is responsible for developing other components besides Flux and Flux v2. Weaveworks has now handed the project over to the Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF). This is still in the earliest stage of development. Sandbox.

ArgoCD offers an alternative to Flux. It belongs to the Argo project, which is also based at the CNCF, and which is in the second stage of development (incubator phase), i.e., one level more advanced than Flux. A comprehensive comparison of the two GitOps operators can be found later in the article.

A newer competitor is Fleet, which is developed by Rancher. Its special ability is that it is able to manage not just one, but a fleet of clusters. PipeCD is similarly young and has an even broader focus. Like Fleet, it promises the ability to manage multiple Kubernetes clusters, and it also offers a UI. In addition, it can handle Terraform and some services from the major cloud providers.

GitOps combined with CI

Jenkins X also offers a broader focus, but in a different area. Contrary to what the name suggests, it differs greatly from the well-known Jenkins server. It’s not a monolithic tool, but rather it is made up of different components, such as Tekton for running pipelines and Kaniko for building images. At the heart of Jenkins X is a CLI that the developers have rewritten for the current version 3 along with some fundamental architectural changes.

Overall, Jenkins X is more powerful than ArgoCD and Flux, and therefore it is more difficult to integrate into existing processes. But it offers a significantly larger range of features. It relieves the user of having to make many decisions, but it also reduces flexibility. Jenkins X is a completely continuous integration and continuous delivery (CI/CD) package. In contrast to this, the pure GitOps operators need an additional CI server for many use cases, which, for example, automates tests and builds images and makes them available in the registry.

Werf positions itself somewhere between a pure GitOps operator and a full CI/CD approach (the project was started under the name dapp, and then renamed werf in early 2019). Like an operator, it can apply Kubernetes resources from Git to a cluster. However, it runs outside of the cluster. This means that it does not utilize the pull principle, which is often associated with GitOps, in which the cluster itself pulls its target state from Git. Unlike ArgoCD and Flux, werf can also build images for this. An operator that runs in Kubernetes is planned (version v1.2 beta).

GitOps - CI-Ops Figure 1

GitOps loves operators

A central point of GitOps is the complete declarative description of the state in Git. During the process of converting from the imperative, classic CI/CD, which is now referred to as CI-Ops in some places to differentiate it from GitOps, certain questions will naturally arise. How do you continue to use templating tools such as Helm or Kustomize that were previously executed by the CI server?

The answer to this is usually: by using additional operators. These expand the Kubernetes API server using so-called Custom Resource Definitions (CRDs) and then listen for changes to the associated Custom Resources (CRs). These CRs allow the desired state to be described declaratively, which is perfect for GitOps.

Flux brings with it Helm and Kustomize operators, which allow Helm releases and Kustomizations to be described declaratively via CR. If such a CR is applied to the cluster (typically using the GitOps operator), the Helm or Kustomize operator takes over the templating or overlay. As an alternative to the operator, the result of templating (such as, for example, through a CI pipeline) can be written to Git. The advantages include reduced load on the infrastructure and more transparency in the Git repository. However, these advantages are counterbalanced by the need to create comprehensive and difficult-to-maintain YAML descriptions in Git.

By storing the entire state in Git, this inevitably leads to the creation of secrets there, too. However, if they are left unencrypted, these present a large attack surface. But the answer to the question of how encryption and decryption can be combined with GitOps is: through additional operators.

Components for better security

One option that works easily together with GitOps is Bitnami’s Sealed Secrets operator. It manages the key material in the cluster itself. There is a CLI for encryption that requires a connection to the cluster.

The SOPS that was developed by Mozilla offers significantly more options, though at the expense of a more complex configuration. Here, the key material can come from the key management systems (KMS) of the major cloud providers, from your own HashiCorp Vault, or from PGP keys that are self-managed. SOPS itself does not contain an operator, but there are different ways to use it with GitOps. Flux v2 offers native support. There is also the helm-secrets plug-in, which can also be used in ArgoCD with the manual configuration. There is also a sops-secrets operator that has been developed by a third party.

Kamus may represent a compromise between Sealed Secrets and SOPS. It was created especially for the GitOps use case and includes an operator. It can either manage the key material itself or obtain it from the KMS of the cloud provider. Another special feature is that Kamus encrypts secrets directly for an application. They are then decrypted by the application itself or by an init container. This means that the secret is never unencrypted by the API server and ideally not in an environment variable in the container.

If you are using an external KMS in any case, then there are other options, such as the kubernetes-external-secrets operator that was originally started by GoDaddy and the externalsecret-operator from Container Solutions. If you use HashiCorp Vault, you also have the option of using the Vault Secrets operator. This works similarly to the Sealed Secrets Operator, but instead of managing your own key material, it retrieves the secrets from vault. The CNCF Technology Radar from January 2021 provides an overview of the types of tools that are available for secrets management.

Additional GitOps tools Table 2

Supplementary GitOps operators can also be used for deployment strategies, such as canary releases, A/B tests, and blue/green deployments, which have now been grouped under the term “progressive delivery”. The resources of most GitOps operators are not sufficient for this. Flagger provides the ideal solution. The tool that was launched by Weaveworks is now being further developed as part of the Flux project. The Argo project also has an operator for this use case: Argo Rollouts. Both offer CRs for implementing progressive delivery strategies in interaction with various ingress controllers and service meshes.

Tools Close to Infrastructure

The term GitOps arose originally in the context of application deployments in Kubernetes. These tools can, in fact, be well deployed for this use case. They are not limited to this, however. GitOps operators can also be used to roll out Kubernetes clusters. One scenario is to use the Kubernetes Cluster API, which was started as kube-deploy and renamed Cluster API (CAPI) in 2018. This can be implemented as follows: A GitOps operator runs in a management cluster and applies the CRs from Git that were defined by the CAPI to the cluster. An infrastructure provider also running in the cluster reads these CRs and applies them to a target cluster.

As soon as this cluster is in place, the question arises of how applications can be rolled out there. Flux and ArgoCD can access the API server directly for this purpose. For other operators, such as Fleet and PipeCD, the architecture is specially designed for this case. They each offer one component for the management and target cluster: With Fleet, a manager operator connects to the agent operators, and with PipeCD, a control plane connects to daemons. So this does not require outside access to the API server.

In addition to creating Kubernetes clusters, there is also an increasing number of opportunities to use various Infrastructure-as-Code (IaC) tools, such as Terraform, with GitOps. As was already mentioned, PipeCD offers support for Terraform. Its developer HashiCorp now also offers an official Terraform Kubernetes operator. However, it needs access to the HashiCorps Terraform Cloud. Alternatively, there are also third-party operators that can function without Terraform Cloud, such as the one produced by Rancher. However, it is in the alpha stage.

Another popular alternative for GitOps with Terraform is Atlantis: When it generates a pull request, it creates the Terraform plan based on the Terraform files that are found in the Git repository and adds it to the pull request as a comment. After the merge, it applies the Terraform plan. Atlantis is compatible with various Git providers. It can be flexibly hosted as either a binary, a Docker image, or as a Helm chart for Kubernetes. This makes it one of the few tools that will be of interest to those who want to use GitOps without Kubernetes. Ansible Tower (and thus its open source upstream AWX) is also independent of Kubernetes. Red Hat considers the range of features to be comparable to a GitOps operator.

Tools close to infrastructure Table 3

The example of Atlantis is, so to speak, symbolic of GitOps outside of Kubernetes. The pull principle of Git Ops is more difficult to implement without a platform like Kubernetes from which an operator can operate. The topic of “Operations by Pull Request” is often what remains to be addressed. The creation, modification, or merging of pull requests also triggers a CI/CD pipeline with CI Ops. This raises the question of whether the use of pull requests is sufficient for operations to be referred to as GitOps. It is more difficult to distinguish here. In fact, Atlantis does not refer to itself as a GitOps tool. But there are other examples, such as the Terraform alternative Pulumi. It works together with CI tools, such as GitHub Actions and GitLab CI, and it can be used to comment on pull requests on the associated platforms. Pulumi calls this GitOps.

Finally, there is one tool in particular that we should not leave out when creating a list of GitOps tools that are close to the infrastructure: Ignite, which was also launched by Weaveworks. It allows you to manage virtual machines (VMs) via GitOps. In order to do this, it runs a daemon on the physical host that can start and stop VMs in accordance with a description that is stored in a Git repository. Firecracker, which was originally launched by AWS, is used as the virtualizer.

So much and yet so little

Ironically, despite the abundance of tools, there are use cases that cannot yet be automated using GitOps. The selection of GitOps tools that are close to the infrastructure is significantly smaller than those for Kubernetes. The closer you get to the physical infrastructure, the less the relevant tools support it. Examples of operations that cannot yet be executed via GitOps are starting physical machines, for example via the Preboot Execution Environment (PXE), or performing firmware upgrades in devices such as switches.

But even with the additional operators, not all use cases in operation can be fully automated with GitOps. One example is the Horizontal Pod Autoscaler in Kubernetes. To be compatible with GitOps, it would have to write the change in the number of replicas to a Git repository instead of sending it directly to the API server.

Another, even more complex example is the range of topics of persistence, backup, restore, and disaster recovery. Backup creation can be reliably automated using such operators as Velero. However, restoring a backup requires manual intervention. You can roll back to the state described in the GitOps repository, but this does not restore the state saved by the backup operator. Conversely, performing a manual restore using the backup operator does not reset the state in the GitOps repository.

Despite the abundant number of tools, there are still gaps in the feature set of the GitOps tool chain. Given the current dynamic of development, there is room for optimism that these gaps will be closed in the foreseeable future. In general, many of the available GitOps tools are based on Kubernetes. A Kubernetes cluster is required just for setting up the cluster or other infrastructure. Anyone who wants to implement GitOps without Kubernetes can follow the examples of others who have gone before them.

From the abundance of tools described above, it is now important to find the right one that satisfies your own requirements. The decision that you make will depend heavily on your use case. The “Criteria for selecting the right tool” sidebar will show you what to look out for.

Operators in comparison ArgoCD vs. Flux v2

An example can better illustrate the criteria listed in the sidebar. So it makes sense to compare the two best-known GitOps operators, ArgoCD and Flux v2. We can expect that both projects will continue to develop rapidly, so that the comparison presented here can only be treated as a snapshot.

In order to gain an initial overview of similarities and differences, it is worth taking a look at the feature lists.

Both Flux v2 and ArgoCD have the following capabilities:

  • RBAC
  • Multi-tenancy
  • Observability (health status, notifications, and metrics)
  • CLI for automation and CI integration
  • Start of synchronization via a webhook
  • Calling webhooks using events (ArgoCD: hooks, Flux: notifications)
  • Rollback/roll-anywhere for certain commits in the Git repository
  • Support for Helm and Kustomize
  • Multi-cluster support
  • Execution of the container as an unprivileged user
  • Security context is configurable

Features only in ArgoCD:

  • Support for Ksonnet, Jsonnet, and others via the plug-in mechanism
  • Web interface to administer and monitor applications in real time
  • SSO integrations for UI and CLI

Features only in Flux v2:

  • Definition of dependencies in Helm and Kustomize applications
  • Support for SOPS
  • Automatic updating of the image version in the Git repository
  • Authentication of the CLI via Kubeconfig

Installation and configuration

ArgoCD can either be installed using simple Kubernetes resources and then patched or rolled out using a configurable Helm Chart. All of the common settings are available, such as ingress and service accounts. Repositories, projects, applications, and various SSO integrations can also be preconfigured for deployment. The RBAC configuration is also extensive. You can define guidelines, roles, and groups yourself.

Another installation variant is the additional ArgoCD operator. This allows the actual ArgoCD components to be installed and configured via CRD. It is not documented how you can configure ArgoCD yourself via GitOps. This is conceivable, for example, using the ArgoCD operator. It remains to be determined whether this will work reliably and, above all, whether it supports continued operation via GitOps in the event of an error.

The Flux v2 operators are rolled out primarily via the CLI. However, it can also be used to generate all the necessary Kubernetes resources and to then deploy them to the cluster. There is currently no Helm Chart, which limits the usability of the common application mechanisms. During the initial installation, Flux sets up a Git repository. From this point forward, you can also configure the operator with GitOps. The CLI is extensive and allows you to control all aspects of the Flux v2 portfolio. You can use it to create, delete, read, start, and stop all Flux-v2-specific resources. This makes Flux v2 particularly suitable for scripting. This may seem contradictory match for GitOps at first, but in practice there is often a gradual changeover. The CLI can be used to create resources, which are then checked into a Git repository. This is how GitOps can be integrated into existing CI/CD processes.

Application configuration

ArgoCD maps the target state internally through projects and applications. Repositories, clusters, and permissions can be defined in projects. In turn, any number of applications can be assigned to a project, where they will have access to the project’s clusters and repositories. ArgoCD saves these applications and projects as CRs in the cluster. The repository and the path to a deployment can then be found in an application. In addition, you can also describe configurations for Helm, Kustomize, etc. in declarative form there as well. ArgoCD then applies this deployment, which is defined via the application, to the cluster. However, ArgoCD does not save Helm releases as such in the cluster, but converts them into simple Kubernetes resources using a Helm template and applies them to the cluster. In contrast to Flux, the Helm releases cannot be called up via Helm and there is no history of the releases in the cluster.

All relevant elements are defined using CRDs, which can be configured using GitOps. Specifically, this means that you can maintain the projects, applications, etc., which are defined as CRs in your own Git repository.

ArgoCD UI Figure 2

With Flux v2, the repositories form the central point. They are used both for the deployment of workloads and the configuration of Flux itself. Flux can roll out Kubernetes resources, Helm Release CRs, and Kustomize CRs as workloads. The Helm Release CRD and Kustomize CRD also offer all of the known features of these tools in descriptive form. Since the Git repositories are also defined as CR, they can also be managed via GitOps.

UI

ArgoCD comes with a web interface for administering and monitoring applications. Since GitOps is an asynchronous process, you do not receive immediate feedback when changes are made to deployments. The included notification mechanisms provide a remedy for this issue (see the Observability section). They provide feedback through various channels, such as chat or e-mail. In addition, ArgoCD offers the opportunity to monitor deployments in real time via the UI (see Figure 2). If parts of the deployment fail, you can identify them via the UI and view error messages and logs.

This allows the developer to analyze their deployments and correct errors all without having to access the cluster. It also provides authentication interfaces for common protocols, such as LDAP and OIDC. Thanks to configurable roles and groups, users can access the projects and applications for which they are also responsible. The developers are currently working on a web interface for Flux v2. But it is still in an experimental state.

CLI

All relevant features can be performed from the CLI for ArgoCD. Users can create and delete objects, such as applications or projects, as well as change states, such as rolling back applications or triggering synchronizations. This makes the CLI suitable for all types of automation and integration in CI pipelines. The CLI communicates with the ArgoCD server, which makes exposing the Kubernetes API server unnecessary.

The Flux v2 CLI can also be used to perform all relevant features. It also offers the option of rolling out additional tenants, which can be advantageous when automating a multi-tenancy environment. The CLI communicates directly with the Kubernetes API server, which must therefore be accessible from outside.

Authentication

ArgoCD relies on an organizational structure based on projects and applications. Applications, Git repositories, clusters and permissions (RBAC), as well as allow and deny lists for resource types can be assigned to a project. Applications offer the same options for restricting permissions. This allows users to assign permissions very easily and granularly, including at both the project as well as the application levels.

Flux v2 currently only supports restricting the operators, Helm releases, and Kustomization CRs via RBAC. Simple Kubernetes resources, such as ConfigMaps and services, can only be controlled with an account that has operator’s permissions. At the project level, this should require several instances of the Flux operator to assign project-specific permissions. Alternatively, access to the GitOps repository can also be implemented via a CI pipeline, which then only allows permitted resources to be pushed into the GitOps repository.

Observability

To send notifications about the synchronization status between Git and the cluster, ArgoCD utilizes the ArgoCD Notifications component, a notification system that is delivered with ArgoCD deployment. Events that arise when applications are rolled out can thus be forwarded to various channels. ArgoCD Notifications are currently supported on the SMTP, Slack, Opsgenie, Grafana, Telegram, and Webhooks channels.

As an alternative to ArgoCD Notifications, you could use Argo Kube Notifier and Kube Watch. However, these should be operated in addition to ArgoCD. In any case, ArgoCD Notifications are best tailored to ArgoCD. They offer useful triggers and templates and can be installed and configured using the project’s own Helm Chart.

To monitor the components and managed deployments, ArgoCD exposes two sets of Prometheus metrics: “Application metrics” for monitoring the status of the synchronization and the health status of deployments as well as “API Server Metrics” for monitoring the requests and responses to the API server. In addition, there are ready-made Grafana dashboards that are based on these metrics. This makes it very easy to implement a monitoring cockpit for the entire system.

Flux v2 already has a special controller for Observability, the notification controller. As is true for all other Flux components, alerts and notifications are configured via corresponding custom resource definitions. They can be used to set up providers, i.e., channels, such as chats and webhooks, alert rules and recipients. The associated CRs can also be maintained in a Git repository and deployed via Flux v2. The Notification Controller is currently suitable for the Slack, Discord, Microsoft Teams, RocketChat, and Webhooks channels.

There is also the option of attaching the status to a Git commit. This can be done with the following providers: GitHub, GitLab, Bitbucket, and Azure DevOps. At the moment, Flux v2 cannot connect a provider via the SMTP protocol in order to send e-mails in this way.

There are a number of Prometheus metrics and Grafana dashboards that are available for monitoring the controllers and deployments (see Figure 3). On the one hand, this allows you to monitor the error-free execution of the controller, providing you with statistics on CPU and memory consumption, for example. On the other hand, you can monitor the state of all Flux v2 CRDs, such as Helm releases and Kustomizations. This also makes it possible to send alerts by e-mail again. The alert rules can be defined in either Grafana or Prometheus Alert Manager. Prometheus and Grafana can also be installed and configured using the Flux CLI. In a multi-tenant environment, it can be used to automate deployment using scripts.

Flux Grafana Figure 3

Conclusion

Both Flux v2 and ArgoCD offer many features that also reflect years of practical experience with GitOps. Both focus strongly on the GitOps core features, which makes them easy to integrate into existing CI/CD infrastructure. However, if you start out with a greenfield approach, you have to build it up separately.

Overall, ArgoCD offers more options for configuration (for example, for authorization) and provides a graphical user interface. Furthermore, it must be configured and operated, and it also offers a larger attack surface. It depends on the use case as to whether a UI is needed at all, and this thus justifies the higher effort. Users of OpenShift will have to put in varying amounts of effort, since ArgoCD is integrated into the platform as OpenShift GitOps.

Flux has certain little features that ArgoCD doesn’t have, such as support for SOPS and automatic updates for new image versions. However, these features also mean that Flux v2 has not yet appeared in a stable version. It could be difficult to opt for a product with a version number 0.x when it is the central component in the supply chain. However, we do expect the release of a stable version here soon. You can see for yourself how well the GitOps Playground project that was released by the authors works. You can try out ArgoCD and Flux v2 with minimal investment of resources and then compare how they work in practice.

May it be a bit more?
There is a large number of tools that either bring themselves in connection with GitOps or that are often named in that context. The authors are available for discussions about the topic in the GitOps discussion forum at heise online. To meet the often-asked question after market overviews “Why is program X not mentioned?” head on, here are a few reasons why this article does not consider some candidates. Left out are tools that

  • Are only called imperatively or in the CI/CD process and therefore do not have a reconciliation loop (e.g. templating tools), even if they spangle themselves with the term GitOps;
  • Are no longer developed actively;
  • Are generally not recommended for use in production;
  • Have a highly limited use case, for example tools that are tailored for a specific cloud provider;
  • Are proprietary;
  • Are still very new and therefore not yet widely used.

Details about the mentioned standardization of the term GitOps can be found in the article “Hands Off” from the iX 4/2021.

Criteria for selecting the right tool

Most of the GitOps tools are currently already available in the Kubernetes environment. It is no wonder, then, that this is also the oldest and most mature GitOps use case. This sidebar summarizes the important requirements based on the authors' own experience that you should consider when making a decision. However, many of these criteria apply not just to using Kubernetes. In this respect, they can also prove to be helpful for using GitOps in other environments.

Installation and configuration of the GitOps operator

As is well known, there are many ways to roll out applications in a Kubernetes cluster. This also applies to GitOps operators. Common options are rolling out via Helm Chart, CLI, or in the form of simple Kubernetes resources. Another aspect is setting up the operator during operation. There is an interesting point to note here: Can the operator itself be configured via GitOps?

In addition, there is a question as to which parts can be adapted at runtime (for example, using CRs – Custom Resources) and which parts require the operator to be restarted. Does the tool permit a multi-tenancy solution? A multi-cluster-capable operator can be helpful for implementing multiple tenancies. Operators can support this using their own components in the target cluster, or they can communicate directly with the API server. Depending on the infrastructure, direct access to the API server may or may not be desired.

Application configuration

The Git repository must be defined and configured so that the GitOps operator can synchronize the cluster with a Git repository. It is important to map existing project structures with the operator used. It would also be interesting to find out whether it can integrate several Git repositories and whether these can be added and configured during operation. In addition to the use of simple Kubernetes resources, there are other ways of rolling out applications in a Kubernetes cluster. These include Kustomize, Helm, Ksonnet, and Jsonnet.

The specific application types that an operator supports and whether they can be configured in accordance with the existing requirements will influence whether you decide to use it. Hooks can also play an additional role, i.e., they can react to events during the deployment in order to send messages, perform checks, or influence the deployment. Whether you need to map dependencies between resources may also be relevant. Examples of this include the use of CRDs before associated CRs, or the fact that a database may be running before the application is started. Occasionally, tools also offer additional opportunities for automation, such as, for example, when building images, when writing new image versions in Git, or even when executing entire pipelines.

UI

A graphical user interface allows easy access to the operator configuration and the application resources. It enables error analysis and handling without accessing the cluster by monitoring cluster objects and manipulating manifests. However, it should be noted here that the changes are not synchronized in the Git repository. Only the associated CRs in the cluster are changed. A single sign-on (SSO) is advantageous, since an existing user management can be used to enable users to access the UI.

CLI

A CLI can be used to develop scripts that automate GitOps processes or integrate them into CI pipelines. It is conceivable that new clusters will be rolled out, including operators, or the reconciliation loop will be triggered in existing workflows. The range of features that can be performed from the CLI will be a more important consideration depending on how extensively the CLI will be used.

Authentication

The assignment of permissions is of central importance for GitOps, since in principle everything that ends up in the Git repository is also applied to the cluster. Critical or security-relevant objects could be changed, or the cluster could be compromised or otherwise rendered unusable. One countermeasure is to restrict the operator's access to certain types of resources. Role-based access control (RBAC) is suitable for making sure that the rights of a cluster administrator are not rolled out to the operator. Additional restrictions that you impose using allow and deny lists on resources and resource types can further improve security.

Observability

Because of the asynchrony of GitOps, feedback mechanisms play an important role. Because it is only after the operator has already deployed resources on the cluster that it is possible to know whether deployment was successful. Additional tools are required to receive these notifications (e.g., chat, e-mail, metrics, or commit status). Here you must consider which tools can be used and how many resources are required to integrate them into your own workflow.


Johannes Schnatterer
Johannes Schnatterer

- Solution Architect & Trainer -

With his work in dev, ops and architecture Johannes has been pursuing the goal of bringing functional, maintainable and secure applications into production as fast as possible. In doing so, he reaches for methods like Continuous Delivery & GitOps, Clean Code, IaC, O11y, documentation, pragmatism and coffee. He is passionate about open source, cloud-native topics, and the vibrant community. As an author, trainer, and consultant, he enjoys learning and teaching.

Philipp Markiewka
Philipp Markiewka

- Software Developer -

Philipp has many years of experience as a software engineer in development and operations. Driven by the desire to provide bug-free and stable software in a secure environment, he is always looking for opportunities to automate processes. He achieves this by utilizing common approaches like CI/CD and Kubernetes and lately also GitOps. At Cloudogu, Philipp is working on the further development of the myCloudogu platform and ensures its secure and stable operation.